Magician from Broadway’s ‘The Illusionists’ to appear at Genesee

He’s known for putting cell phones into blenders while their owners have heart palpitations nearby.

Adam Trent — who did the iPhone-in-the-blender trick on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” show in 2016 — comes to the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan for a 7:30 p.m. show Oct. 25.

He’s a rising star in the magic world and is fresh from Broadway, where he appeared in the show “The Illusionists.” His stage show — of which he does about 100 a year — is parts magic, stand-up comedy and technical-spectacle.

Trent got his start with a magic book he got when he was 8 years old. Before long, he was performing at kids’ birthday parties.

“The birthday party gigs became bigger, one thing led to the next and here I am 25 years later still doing it,” he said.

He makes it sound so easy, right?

“It certainly was not easy,” he said. “Most careers, when you want to get to the top, you can at least see the path you want to go. If you want to be a lawyer, you go to a great law school, work for a great law firm and put in your time. Whereas entertainment, and magic specifically, is quite different.

“There are a thousand ways you can go and maybe all those paths lead nowhere. Thankfully, it’s something I love so I kept doing it. Eventually things worked out after putting in the time.”

He’s appeared on shows like “America’s Got Talent,” “The Today Show” and “Rachael Ray.”

“I do a mix of everything. It’s a family-friendly show that has a mix of music, comedy and magic,” he said. “The good news is, if you like magic, obviously it’s a show for you. If you don’t like magic, it’s still a show for you because there are so many different elements to it. There’s lots of audience participation, people are coming on stage constantly. I take someone’s phone and put it in a blender. There’s all kinds of interesting little social things happening as well.”

He spent three years on Broadway with “The Illusionists,” so his show is grand in style and scope, he said.

“I do things with technology. I have these giant screens and I clone myself and teleport myself across the stage,” he said. “It’s a futuristic style of magic.”

Putting together something so grand was no easy feat. There are parts of the show he’s been working on for 15 years, he said.

“It’s always trial and error with these things,” he said.

He adds about 20-30 minutes of new material a year, so every few years he has a new show. And if you’ve seen him before, it’s almost a new show every time because the audience participation is always different, he said.

“Each show kind of takes on its own form,” he said. “It’s probably the most interactive magic show touring at the moment. There are parts where every single person in the audience — the magic happens in their hands.”

The best comment he likes to get is when people tell him they don’t like magic shows but they love his act, he said.

“That’s my favorite thing, when I can turn a non-magic fan into a magic fan,” he said. “I always say this is a show for people who did not know they were fans of magic.

“Part of the reason I started magic was I saw a magician perform,” he said. “I think it’s amazing to bring Broadway-caliber magic — I’m doing magic directly from the Broadway show ‘The Illusionists’ — to (places) like Waukegan.”

He also has a 10-episode series on Netflix called “The Road Trick,” where he travels around the world using magic as an icebreaker to meet locals, he said.

“I got to experience all of these crazy cultural things,” he said. “Magic was the vehicle to make that happen.”

Waukegan audiences can expect to see his Broadway-sized magic, he said.

“Whether this is your first magic show or your hundredth magic show, you’re going to see the most spectacular technological magic that’s currently out there,” he said. “I’m known for my blend of technology with magic. I’d say bring the whole family … and give it a chance.”


Robot learns magic tricks for Netflix show, but won’t endanger human jobs

MAGI grasped a silver cup between its two metal claws in one hand. With the other hand, the robot dropped a red, bubble gum-sized ball into the cup.

A graduate student sat in the background, his hand hovering over an emergency stop button.

After a couple of rigid waves over the cup for dramatic effect, MAGI turned the cup upside down to reveal red confetti, the ball nowhere in sight.

MAGI used to be the top half of an emergency responder robot that could open doors and turn levers in hazardous situations. Now, it sits in the corner of UCLA’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory, wearing a red bow tie and performing beginner-level magic tricks.

MAGI, which stands for Magic, Arts and Gaming Initiative, is one of many robots, including the marimba-playing robot and dancing robot, attempting to enter the entertainment industry.

“There are jobs we generally thought were safe for humans, like creative jobs,” said Dennis Hong, the principle investigator of RoMeLa and an amateur magician. “Because of advancements in artificial intelligence, robots are going to start to take over jobs in those fields.”

But this robot still needs to master the mechanics of basic tricks before it threatens any magician jobs, said Matthew Williams, a graduate student in the lab.

“Robots are dumb while human motion is smart and there are a lot of complications that go into trying to create a human motion,” Williams said.

Researchers in the lab built MAGI in one week to perform in one episode of a Netflix show called “Magic for Humans,” which funded the project. During that week, graduate students spent more than 40 hours practicing the tricks and fixing pieces when they broke.

Sometimes an elbow motor would fail carrying heavy props. Sometimes an arm would shoot out unprompted, nearly hitting the graduate students. Once, the robot exhausted its engine grasping at nothing.

“We’re dealing with a robot that wants to potentially break itself to get what we want it to do,” Williams said.

The robot executed its tricks well for the Netflix taping but lost an arm after only a few performances.

ustin Quan, another graduate student in the lab, said he thinks the robot could perform more complex tricks if researchers had more time and newer equipment. He said it might even be able to create its own tricks using artificial intelligence.

Steve Spill, a performer and founder of the magic theater Magicopolis in Santa Monica, said he does not feel like his career is threatened by robots like MAGI, even if they are able to create their own magic tricks.

“If you gave ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ to Bob Dylan or Taylor Swift, they would all sing the song and it would have a part of them in it. That’s what art is,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the trick, it has nothing to do with the song, it’s about the performer.”

Hong said he thinks robots could eventually exceed magicians’ abilities in technically challenging tricks by adding features such as extra fingers and hidden pockets.

However, he said part of the appeal of magic is understanding basic human limitations and then watching the magician violate them in a trick.

“You assume ‘that’s a robot, it could have built things into it’,” Hong said. “That’s no fun because you start with the assumption that (the robot) has abilities better than the audience.”

Spill agreed, comparing it to magic on television.

“You can’t help but think maybe there’s trick photography or something happening out of the frame of the screen,” he said. “The same could be said about robots.”

Hong also said successful magicians have many intangible qualities robots will never be able to recreate.

“This gets into the realm of what artificial intelligence can and cannot do,” Hong said. “We have the technology to build robots that look and feel like they have emotions, but I do not believe we’ll be able to build a robot with true emotion.”


A grumpy magician who wears a dragon suit!

These days, John Van der Put is best-known as Piff the Magic Dragon. He’s a magician with an onstage persona that is somewhere between grumpy, irritating and disinterested. If you’ve seen him on TV, you’d remember him. He wears a satin dragon costume and is accompanied by a Chihuahua – Mr. Piffles, who has his own dragon suit – and a showgirl named Jade Simone.

Clearly, it’s an image that has been successful for him. He has a long-term contract with the Flamingo Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. And when he’s not there, he’s on the road. On Sept. 15, his wide-ranging travels bring him to the Rising Star Casino in Rising Sun, Indiana, for a single 8 p.m. performance.

It wasn’t always this way. Oh, the glum, moody attitude was always there. But his magic acts weren’t always such a big hit. For the better part of a decade, Van der Put performed at bar mitzvahs, corporate gatherings and weddings.

But there was a problem. People really didn’t like his act.

“Everyone hated it,” says Van der Put, speaking by phone from his home in London, “I would get fired all the time. It certainly wasn’t successful.”

When he started doing illusions, around the age of 14, he dreamed of a glorious career as a master magician.

“But it was just a hobby when I was younger,” he says. “It was something to fill the time. Then it became a job. Then it became something I could to do avoid having a job.”

The turning point – there has to be a turning point to his misery, right – came when he was invited to a holiday costume party. He didn’t have a clue about what to wear. But his sister happened to have a dragon suit in the closet. He was desperate, so he borrowed it and headed for the party.

When he arrived, he was the only one wearing a costume. He could have turned around and left. But hey, what’s a little more ridicule when you’re already feeling low?

“Since it was a Christmas party, I told everyone I was rein-dragon,” he recalls. So what did people think? “I don’t really want to know the answer.”

In an odd way, though, he found the experience liberating. He could be just as testy as he wanted and no one got angry with him. Indeed, everyone was amused. For a terminally disgruntled guy, this was a dream come true.

“When I found out I could re-invent what I was doing, I had a lot of fun,” says the 38-year-old Van der Put. “Basically, putting on a dragon outfit allowed me to say anything I want. Now I’m doing the show 400-500 times a year.”

When you do a show that often, though, there are bound to be audience members here and there who are frustrating. Or worse. But even that is OK.

“Now, I can say what I feel,” he says. “Instead of being fired for saying sarcastic things, I get to turn it into humor. It’s really quite amazing. When I had to do someone’s wedding, I couldn’t say these things. Now, people can’t wait for it.”

So, having unleashed this new vein of mocking wit, who is it who is attracted to his shows? And to his humor?

“Mostly, I aim for the people who don’t like magic,” he says. “You know – if you hate magic, come see Piff the Magic Dragon. I’ll turn you around.”

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Branson magician brings show to Pittsburg

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Reza Borchardt, like most professional illusionists, was seduced by magic at a very early age. After witnessing his first magic show at the age of 6, he was conducting his own shows less than a year later, wowing his fellow classmates.

“I was an entrepreneur from day one; it was in my blood,” he said, who performs under the professional name of Reza. “Because of that drive, I was always able to make it a profession in the sense that I never had to get a real job.”

“However, it took me over a decade of constant dedication before I started achieving any type of huge success, so it definitely wasn’t overnight.”

Though he performs 100 annual shows at The Starlite Theatre in Branson, he loves to take to the road when he can, performing roughly another 100 shows “in other parts of the world.” Reza will be performing two live shows, the first at 6 p.m. and the second at 8 p.m., on Saturday at Kansas Crossing Casino in Pittsburg. This will be his second show in Southeast Kansas; he previously performed at the Pittsburg State University’s Bicknell Center for the Arts.

He has purposely steered clear of cliched acts such as “rabbits inside hats,” as he calls it, which is symbolic of magic acts of yesteryear.

“I don’t spend a lot of time practicing, but I spend a ton of time creating, developing and designing,” Reza said. “My brain is wired to constantly take ideas from the world around us and apply it to new ideas for the show. I think that might be what allows me to connect to audiences. The magic revolves around objects that we can all relate to, like power tools and spray paint, rather than sparkly boxes that don’t exist in our day-to-day lives.”

Voted Branson’s “Magician of the Year” in 2016, he has appeared before millions on television, from MTV to the A&E channel. In 2017, he appeared on an episode of “Duck Dynasty.” Earlier this year, he appeared on “Penn & Teller: Fool Us.”

His show, “Edge of Illusion,” is a high-energy production that Reza designed to connect with the audience on a personal level.

“The live show incorporates a lot of different types of magic and allows me to change the set list on a nightly basis, both to keep it fresh for myself and for those that come back and see the show over and over,” he said. “One moment, it might feel like a high energy rock concert as I’m passing through the spinning blades of an industrial fan. The next moment, I might be in the middle of the audience doing magic with an Oreo cookie. I try to strike a balance between the tricks people expect to see and the totally unexpected.”


A Comedy Magic Show

Comedy and magic, magic and comedy. The two are made for one another. Tricks can be hilarious as well as awe-inspiring, and a few laughs can help a magician distract an audience, diverting their attention away from the trick.

David Eliot mixes magic and comedy with aplomb, joking with the audience while spinning out tricks: card tricks, sleight of hand, catching flying objects in ways that would seem impossible.

The Kingston, Ont., native (a fact that elicited a lot of laughs, “Always the appropriate reaction to Kingston) brings his street performance into a stage setting, allowing him to try out new tricks and a fun new setup. His opening trick (which I won’t spoil) was both hilarious and amazing. I spent the rest of the afternoon thinking about the trick, wondering how exactly he did it.

It’s what makes the best magicians, tricks that seem impossible and keep you thinking, keep you running it through in your head.